Q & A with Roger Osborne, author of The Life of Such is Life

The version of Such is Life that established Joseph Furphy’s reputation as the "father of the Australian novel" was published in 1903 and was much shorter than the version he mailed to his editor in 1897. In The Life of Such is Life, Roger Osborne explores the differences between the published versions and Furphy's original manuscript. We asked Roger a few questions about his experience working on this book.

Silver gelatin photoprint of author Joseph Furphy

What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

After finishing my PhD in 2000, I looked to the complicated textual history as an appropriate challenge of my skills in textual criticism and scholarly editing. The prominent position that Such is Life has in the history of Australian literature was also an attractive proposition. I wanted to study and demystify the processes that led to the composition, revision, and publication of Such is Life in all of its forms.

What were your influences?

I have been deeply influenced by the debates in the field of textual criticism and scholarly editing, particularly those of Paul Eggert, Peter Shillingsburg, and James L West, but also the intersections that this field has with the cultural studies supported in the field of book history.

What did you find surprising during your research, is there something that stands out?

Joseph Furphy has a strong claim to be one of the first writers to personally use a typewriter to complete a manuscript. Other writers such as Mark Twain and Henry James had their works types, but by somebody else. 

What was the most interesting?

I am most interested in the sometimes very personal relationships that people have had with Furphy and Such is Life, particularly those who maintained Furphy’s literary legacy after he died. Kate Baker, especially, felt that she had a significant stake in the life of Such is Life, and so the emotional connections she displayed in her correspondence over a period of more than fifty years was particularly interesting.  

How would you describe your writing process?

Slow and iterative. This project has had a long life, and so it has been written in sections that were assembled into the work that appears in the book.

Why is this book important, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

I hope that the way people have been entangled in various versions of Such is Life will encourage readers and editors to reflect on their own textual entanglements that might have an effect on the life of Such is Life or any other work to which they devote themselves.  

Your work on the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive is at the forefront of digital scholarly editing. Can you tell us more about this project, and any other projects you are working on at the moment?

The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive provides readers with access to the surviving manuscripts and typescripts of Such is Life, as well as other versions that appear in digital form nowhere else. By providing this access, readers can have a more intimate connection with the earliest version of Such is Life, a version that was written for a different time and audience, and in a form that was much closer to Furphy’s original vision. Because the archive is open-ended, I will continue to add texts and resources for years to come.

I am currently working on three separate but related projects: a scholarly edition of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, due to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2023; with Professor David Carter, the second volume of a study of American editions of Australian novels — Australian Books and Authors in the American Literary Marketplace, 1950s–2000s; and, with Professor Katherine Bode, a participatory database and study of serial fiction in twentieth century Australian newspapers. This project aims to transform understandings of Australian literary history by using innovative digital methods to discover, curate and investigate tens of thousands of unrecorded novels, novellas and short stories in 20th-century Australian newspapers. 

The Life of Such is Life is available for purchase here